What is oppression when it comes to the ability to develop our sexualities?

Intrigued by anal sex, Tristan Taormino was discouraged that there were no resources familiarizing women with the ins and outs (no pun intended) of anal sex, and how it could be pleasurable for women.  This made me realize how severely disadvantaged women are in their ability to develop their sexualities. Women are sexually repressed by the lack of resources available to them, which, if available, would enable them to independently explore their sexualities. As a result, women aren’t familiar with their own sexualities, making it difficult for them to be treated as equals in heterosexual relations as opposed to objects for male gratification.

While most boys are told that they will have “natural urges,” I’ve never heard of a girl whose parents or sex-ed teachers told her that she would also start having natural sexual desires. Similarly, though the mainstream media treats male masturbation as commonplace (suggesting that every guy does it, that – to an extent – it’s a right of passage, and making light of it in comedies [the famous There’s Something About Mary scene]), it is extremely taboo to talk about female masturbation.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that there are many fewer resources for women seeking sexual arousal than for men. As Tristan attested, very few companies make pornos for women.  The dangerous message sent is that a woman’s sexual urges are trivial, or should not be happening in the first place. This begs the question: if a woman isn’t in charge of her sexuality, who is? The answer implied by all the magazines and pornos geared towards male sexual gratification is that men should be in charge, women should only be in control when it suits the sexual needs of her male partner (i.e. he is aroused by it and, therefore, lets himself be the more submissive partner), and that it’s irrelevant if the female partner ever reaches orgasm.

To combat this repression, women need to take ownership of their sexualities by acknowledging their sexual urges, asserting that female masturbation is as normal as male masturbation, establishing in their own relationships that male and female pleasure are equally important, and demanding that resources be available to facilitate women in independently exploring their sexualities.

Source: Tristan Taormino video lecture. October 25, 2012.

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4 Responses to What is oppression when it comes to the ability to develop our sexualities?

  1. marykatherinek6 says:

    I think this post raises some excellent points. I agree that women are most definitely at a severe disadvantage when it comes to developing their sexualities. Rather than exploring it freely as boys are allowed and encouraged to do, as girls we are raised under the mentality of “close your legs,” “don’t put your hands there,” “it’s not ladylike to talk about sex,” “’wait’ to ‘be with’ someone you love,” and so on. Yet, as we have seen through the works of Kilbourne and Dreamworlds 3 in particular, we’re also taught that to be sexual is to be worthy, to be popular, and to be good at being a woman.

    Rather than having a clear concept about the role of sex, these mixed messages lead girls into losing agency over their own bodies. Because authority figures do not allow or encourage us to touch our bodies, masturbate, or engage in sexual acts with others, we’re both subliminally and directly forced into being treated as sexual objects rather than subjects, to use language like that of Berger and hooks. We are forced to rely on heteronormative stereotypes of sexuality; that is, man as the active giver of sex and woman as its passive recipient. Cathryn is on point when she says our culture treats male masturbation as commonplace and female masturbation as taboo. Mainstream media and societies in our nation create and perpetuate the ideas that a man can do it and it’s socially acceptable, but if a woman does, it’s devious.

    For me this idea recalls a scene from Womanhouse, the documentary about the 1970s feminist art project of the same name. As part of a performance piece, a woman sits in a chair, rocking back and forth, staring blankly ahead, listing a sequence of things she must wait for as a woman throughout the course of her life. “Waiting to be a pretty girl…Waiting to neck…Waiting to orgasm…Waiting for my wedding night…” and so on. Rather than being in control of her sexuality and doing these things when she wants, the character (who is supposed to represent all women) must rely on a man to help her explore her sexuality, regardless of her age but especially as a girl and teenager. These “natural urges” that Cathryn brings up that boys have are never acknowledged or discussed among girls, even though we are all human.

    I really admire Tristan Taormino for being not only exploring her own sexuality but also helping other women (and men and intersex individuals) discover and explore their own. She — a sex-positive, feminist pornographer and sex educator — tries to break outside of these traditional molds of man as subject, woman as object and shows sex in an organic and real way. The performers do what they want and do not have to follow the “script” of mainstream porn and other media portrayals of sex. Through her films and other work (including her awesome radio show Sex Out Loud, which I have been listening to since she spoke to our class), she gives women (and everyone else) a better perspective on how to be in control of their own sexuality and bodies.

  2. jennajoelle says:

    After the Tristan Taormino interview, I felt empowered as a female and proud of her success within the feminist porn industry. However, I soon started to question the movement (perhaps due to my religious upbringing) and whether it can diminish the meaning of sex. As my internal dialogue considered the anti-porn feminists, I recognized that if there is porn, it should reflect the desires of the entire consumer market.
    While my original post was going to discuss sexually exploitive porn, I refocused my attention after re-reading the “Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process” piece by Bussel. I think it is important to parcel out talking and learning about sexuality from having sex. Having healthy images of sex out in the open, should be the norm, but should not promote sex to those who wish to abstain, as sometimes it brings along an “everybody is doing it” phenomena.
    I am reminded of my freshman year during NSO. The excessive lectures about drinking made me feel like an outcast for not wanting to blackout daily. The Bussel article instead made saying yes, and variations of yes (to different types of actions) an option, but also inspired a different type of empowerment as well – to say no. If everybody is talking about sex or it becomes easier to utter the words, then saying yes or no to what and with whom becomes easier as well. From all of our readings and by studying in America, it’s not hard to see that our society presents a skewed vision of sex. I only hope that in a world with “Visions of Female Sexual Power” that sexuality becomes more about equality between all genders and not necessarily about bringing everyone (of any gender) up to speed in a fast-paced world focused on intercourse.

  3. sheilass says:

    I can’t begin to describe the number of movies or TV shows (ex: How I Met Your Mother, Because I Said So) that make light of the fact women’s sexual desires are never considered or reached. So often jokes about sex center around women having to fake orgasms to please their male partners in order to boost his self-esteem or give him value as a man. Often the woman has to confirm to her partner how great he was in bed or how aroused she was, while clearly both are untrue, so that her partner can reaffirm his “maleness”. The man is shown to be oblivious to his female partner’s sexual dissatisfaction, but even that is often part of the joke. As long as he can reaffirm his success as a heterosexual male, all else does not matter or is considered humorous. If you’ve ever seen the show “Girls” by Lena Dunham, female desire and sexual exploration is discussed/shown in a very realistic way. The show has gained critical acclaim because it tackles often taboo topics and depicts sex from the perspective of young women. It shows that often the girls’ desires are not respected or met, that men may do/say things to “turn women on” and gain control, that sex is not always this magical and pleasurable thing for women because they often don’t speak up for themselves and their desires. “Girls” has gotten many people talking about the realities of sex and women’s sexual desires, and has definitely started to transform the way people depict sex and sexual desires in mainstream media.

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